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Something bad to chew on

Just because you're old enough to know better, doesn't mean you will not pick up bad habits. Bruxism is a common, and usually unrecognized nightly routine that often develops in adults, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education.

Bruxing is the involuntary gnashing or grinding of teeth. It's frequently done unconsciously while sleeping, and is often associated with emotional stress.

"A common characteristic among bruxers is the tendency to deny doing it," comments William Kuttler, DDS, FAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

Recent studies show that grinding can lead to crumbling teeth, chronic headaches and constant jaw pain. "The challenge for both dentists and patients is to get bruxers to recognize the habit before irreversible damage occurs," says Dr. Kuttler. Despite showing many symptoms, such as awakening with tired jaws and headaches, or flattened teeth and tooth pain, many patients say "I would never do that," according to Dr. Kuttler. "People should realize that bruxism is often simply a reaction to stress. Some people get an ulcer and others grind their teeth," he says.

A spouse or significant other can play a key role in helping bruxers get the treatment they need. If your spouse complains about strange, squeaking noises that keep him or her awake at night, you may be grinding your teeth.

After overcoming the denial phase, treatment is fairly straightforward. Your dentist may prescribe a molded plastic mouth guard that absorbs the stress of grinding during sleep. And while the mouth guard won't prevent you from grinding, it will prevent damage to your teeth, jaw joint, and relieve the extra stress to your face.

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